Entrepreneurs cautiously optimistic for solid summer business

As Sun Peaks Resort begins summer operations, small business owners are seeing an uptick in customers.

File Photo

After a longer and quieter shoulder season than expected thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sun Peaks Resort LLP (SPR) officially welcomed guests back to the resort on June 29 after a soft opening for passholders only. 

The limited supply of seasons passes for the bike park sold out quickly and long, physically distanced, lines and filled parking lots have been evidence of a successful start to a season when many didn’t know what to expect. 

Aidan Kelly, SPR’s chief marketing officer, said despite the circumstances opening has gone well. 

“Demand for mountain biking has been especially high— with limited quantities this year, we sold out of bike park season passes before we even opened and day tickets have also been selling out on high demand days (primarily weekends),” he wrote in an email to SPIN. “It’s strange and difficult to be turning away revenue at a time we very much need it, but we knew it was more important to do the smart and responsible thing during these unique times. We are hopeful we’ll be able to increase capacities in the bike park as the summer progresses, but that’s based on things continuing to go smoothly from an operational and safety perspective.”

Kelly added demand for hiking and sightseeing has been lower than biking but is expected to grow as summer weather makes an appearance, more trails are opened and the wildflowers come into bloom.

“Golf course operations have been going well although we’ve had plenty of challenging conditions due to the extremely wet weather. We are looking forward to things drying out a bit more and we are seeing a renewed interest in the golf course for later in the season,” he continued. 

File photo.

As guests get used to new measures in place to prevent the spread of the virus and increase physical distancing, Kelly said most are understanding of the changes. 

“I’m sure there will be more tweaks throughout the summer season, but for the most part we are pretty pleased and quite happy to be back in business.”

As SPR has restarted their operations so have other local businesses. 

On the village stroll, Alpine Images reopened their doors at the end of May and have seen an uptick in visitors since, according to owner Gemma Harris. 

“It has been really quiet so we’ve definitely seen a small increase in traffic which is awesome. Even if it’s a small amount of cash flow coming in that makes a big difference when up until this point the money has just been going out, so that’s nice.”

Harris said she has been informally tracking guests as she chats with them in the store. Through these conversations, she said, she learned of many owners who are choosing to use their units rather than rent them nightly and met many visitors who live in the area but who had never made the trip to Sun Peaks before. 

“On Saturday I had 15 different groups of people that came through that had never been here before, they were from Kamloops, Kelowna, (the) Lower Mainland, Williams Lake…they were either stopping off in Sun Peaks on a road trip around, camping and coming up for the drive even though the weather was bad.”

One bright side of the forced closure of her shop was having the time and motivation to build a website to sell some of the products she carries. She said it was something she had always planned on but with busy winters taking her energy it hadn’t happened yet.

“It was ‘Ok I have the time, I need to do something because if I’m not achieving something I’m going to lose my mind a little bit,’ and I think everyone felt the same way, that they had no control over what was going on. For me, because I didn’t know what was going to be coming, it was one thing I could do to give myself what I felt was a little bit of control in the situation. To feel like I was actually doing something that would potentially help me.” 

Her site, the Sun and Snow Gift Collective, launched in June and currently offers jewelry, art, candles and more.

Harris’ website features a selection of products from her shop.

Overall, Harris said, she’s hopeful the high spirits and regional visitors will continue through the summer. 

“For me, considering the weather’s been a mixed bag and we didn’t really know what to expect I think it’s been a pretty good opening. I saw more people on the weekend than I expected, especially considering the chairlift was only open for people with season’s passes. 

Rob O’Toole, owner of Vertical Cafe, said he has also seen many regional visitors exploring Sun Peaks for the first time at his business. 

After reopening in May he saw a steady stream of customers, which has only grown since SPR started operations. He explained that before opening weekend for the resort it was usually only Vertical and one other cafe open. Now, even with most other cafes and restaurants operational, there has been a gradual increase in customers. 

“Despite the less than phenomenal weather it’s been strong,” he said. “We’re not where we were last summer at all but all are pretty happy with how busy we are.” 

Looking forward he shared Harris’ optimism for the remainder of the summer. 

“I honestly believe when the weather gets better and we get some continuous sunshine we will see as good a summer as we had last year. Obviously we won’t have any Serena Ryder (concert) type days where  we have three or four thousand people in the village but I think generally, day over day, we’re going to see a pretty consistent level of business.

“I think August will be a good step or two better than what we’re seeing now.” 

Vertical Cafe has seen a steady flow of customers since reopening.

In an effort to improve business Vertical is also hosting a stand at the weekly Market Day. Some days will be sales of their Cookies for a Cause fundraiser with money going to the Sun Peaks Community Garden, other days the space will be used to highlight their local vendors and made-from-scratch products.

Colin Cannon, owner of Discover Sun Peaks Adventures, said they’ve gone ahead with their canoe and kayak rentals on McGillivray Lake for the summer and have also seen fewer people than year’s past but still a steady stream of guests. 

“If I can even do half of what we did last year I’m going to be grateful,” he said. 

Cannon said the weather at the beginning of the season has added another obstacle for the rentals but those that are still going are often booking in advance, something he hasn’t experienced as much previously. 

“With COVID people want to do stuff that is keeping them safe,” he said. “We’re happy to do it, happy to provide another activity for people.”

They’ve implemented sanitization measures so all equipment (boats, paddles, PFDs, etc.) is sanitized between guests. Other than sanitizing, he said, the activity naturally distances its participants.

McGillivray Lake’s dock. Photo SPIN

“This is perfect, you get the supplies from guest services…the canoes and kayaks are all stored on racks and if there are people there we tell them just wait, let them take their canoe or kayak out and then you can follow. Once you’re on the dock and in your canoe or kayak it’s just the people that are in your bubble, it’s perfect. 

“You’d really be hard pressed to run into somebody in another canoe out there…it’s not that big of a lake but it’s big enough that you’re not going to see anybody else.”

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